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The Airy Lyricism of Life in the Pancentric Sculpture of Andrea Roggi

by Giampaolo Trotta


Andrea Roggi is, in a way, a traditional sculptor because he has ‘re-appropriated’ himself with ancient materials (such as bronze and marble) and techniques (such as lost-wax casting). Nevertheless, his works are figurative but never oleographically verist so they are extremely modern and fascinating.

Often it was mistakenly thought that conceptual art should express an idea without anchoring itself to the beauty of figuration: Roggi’s sculptures reveal, instead, a profound symbolic and allegorical meditation on existence through forms exceptionally rich in pathos and formal elegance. In recent years his most significant production has focused on the ‘rarefied’ human figure that becomes a symbol of a profound reflection on life, on the Cosmos and on its constant and inexorable transformation. His figures represent the whole humanity: the material they are made of seems to be forged and shaped with time and space.

It seems that fragments of the past have been retrieved from a symbolic sea and projected by a demiurge into the cosmic wind. The whirlwind of this eternal matter, the Circle of Life, is a continuous grabbing and letting go the meeting of lovers who remain, therefore, suspended in the void (series titles). We can find dancing figures, like pure flowers of dreams, in search of Knowledge (title of another of his series of works) but in a dimension that is often partly playful and ‘childlike’ (in the positive sense of belonging to the serenity of childhood). In Roggi’s sculptures the meter that measures Time and Space in search of a final catharsis is enclosed even in the most majestic public commissions, dedicated to people and communities: the artist inspects or, better, tries to penetrate the future reality through a creative reflection and a serene ancestral memory.

Roggi attempts to represent a visual experience that circumvents the understanding in a way to penetrate with its emotional content directly into the unconscious. And, perhaps, some musics by György Lieti (1923-2006), born in Hungary and one of the greatest composers of instrumental music of the twentieth century (as Atmospheres; Lux Aeterna; Adventures and Requiem) would be perfect as a comment for Roggi’s works. Or it is possible to associate the dynamic compositions, characterized by a light, airy, never decorative lyricism, by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) the well-known French composer who had marked the transition from ‘emotional’ romanticism to an ideal essentiality, with a tension to turn into a moral and ethical message.

Everything, in Roggi’s sculptures, magically converges in a final harmonic and eschatological unicum, even in the versatility of shapes and materials. This is emblematically shown by the circles of figures almost dancing around a large navel-solar center, which beats and palpitates in the Cosmos like an immanent and transcendent heart at the same time. The Cosmos itself is made of lights and shadows, where the shadow emanating from the ‘scaled’ and pierced bronzes can not exist without the Light, but even the Light can not exist without its ‘shadows’. Thus, the words spoken by a Sicilian sculptor (professor at the Accademia of Venice), Giuseppe La Bruna, can be added to the sculptures of Roggi: “everything has its own truth within which a lie is hidden, but in the lie is often trapped the Truth that hurts so much the ones using arrogantly the lie”. Some of his chromatic counterpoints, in gold or green on bronze (like in the varied production of the Olives), make solemn and ‘ancient’ the ascending procession of the figures that meet and unite, as directed to a heavenly “priscum templum et religiosum” (to use a quote from Pliny the Younger about the temple of Clitunno near Trevi in Umbria) making it possible to join the charm of a sacred union between Mother Earth and Sacred Heaven.

Roggi’s sculptures combine all the ancient and classical charm with the postmodern material and symbolic gesture. Well known not only in Italy but also abroad, the artist shapes his bronze sculptures – all linked to a symbolic figurative – deforming, distorting, inflecting, cutting and perforating the metal and, in this way, almost relieving it from its pondus, that is, from its material weight and making it ‘ascend’ to the heavens, in an airy and dynamic vortex. Sometimes his Olives (from the Tree of Life series) seem to have been uprooted from the ground, to hover in the air and Upwards: it is the destination the green leaves and golden fruits yearn. Their knotty and twisted trunk is transformed into two figures – a man and a woman – annihiliating each other: they are long-line, dynamically tapered as branches – the long arms of Nature – clinging to each other in a spiral and helical ascending like a dance. They ‘tear’ inwardly into a gilded bark like the backdrop of a Byzantine icon, in which the perfect golden sphere means Life, Soul, the deep and ‘divine’ Essence.

Thus, the new ovidian metamorphosis, already renewed in this sense (existentialistic) by Apollo e Dafne painted in 1968 by Pietro Annigoni, is reversed and Nature, represented by the olive tree, is transformed into self-conscious human beings aware of the Divine: the plant is transformed not only into a symbol of peace as already in the Bible, but in an allegory of human-divine love that join body and soul (una caro spiritusque unus). The sphere of the world (from the Imagine series) is a permeable network (a sort of modern and exaggerated reinterpretation of a golden and perfumed pomme d’ambre of Arab or medieval origin), a magical network whose links are made up of a rhomboidal spiral of schematic, ‘elementary’ children (boys and girls) holding hands, in a symbolic chain of Life, represented as a light bronze embroidery.

Once again a hymn to peace, to universal love in a more fair world on a human and natural scale. The same applies to the pierced Bell  (a sort of reinterpretation of the lost Bell of the Eight Windows commissioned by Guido Gonzaga in 1444 and already in the Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantova), a religious symbol identified by the sound of the primordial vibration and therefore representing the union between heaven and earth, the ‘voice’ of God himself. Again the ‘plot’ is made up of figures holding hands. These works have an intriguing conceptual reference with those of another sculptor, Bruno Benelli, soul and engine of the Biennali di Arte Sacra in Pistoia until 2006, who was able to bend the bronze to his phantasmagorical creative imagination, wedging oxidized or polished metal chips, ‘wounded’ and pierced by light, in the textures and iron nets of his frames.

The Resurrected Christ (which we associate with the series Sacred Works) is, instead, a figure still in the posture of the Crucifix, with extended arms: it is ‘projected’ forward, into the air, into the heavens, by the ‘atomic’ explosion of the Resurrection. The body is lacerated and expanded dramatically, as in a new Big Bang of life at the beginning, and becomes ethereal even in the carnal physiognomy to indicate the new ‘body’ of the Risen One. A strongly ‘theatrical’ bronze (in the positive meaning of the term, as a new baroque ‘machine’), conceptual and spiritual, that dynamically detaches itself from that support of travertine, representing together the cross of the gallows, the slab of the bird, the tree of life. And at the base, in the stone once again made of travertine ‘earth’, we do not find the legendary skull of Adam buried in Golgotha, but the recurring smooth and luminous Roggi’s sphere indicating the union between the Spirit of God and that of a Man reconciled with his Creator.

Structures and elements defining the body of Christ in a continuous becoming appear in his creation: they self-draw in space as nuclei of pure energy and harmonic balance. The aerial aggregation-disintegration tends to transform into a dynamic balance of transcendent fragments-ideas-intuitions, imbued with an aspiration to movement that yearns to represent the energy that originates it and that manifests itself as a centripetal and centrifugal force at the same time. The sculpture presents itself as a tormented articulated surface in which the rigor never expires in a compositional rigidity or in a cold plasticity. An absolutely original creative process, which has allowed Roggi to reach formal levels of the highest quality, in which the spatial investigation appears more than ever integrated with the search for form, possessing a unique vein and a narrative and philosophical-ethical-conceptual value. In the case of Andrea Roggi, sculpture brings within itself an aspiration and a destiny of freedom.

From the very beginning, in fact, his works have celebrated the creativity of a spontaneous, fantastic and imaginative craftsmanship that reveals a vital joy and force, imbued, however, with a pure Christian holiness that is at the same time archaic and ‘peasant’. Like a demiurge, he has the power to ‘regenerate’ the real and to do so in new and symbolic forms going beyond the obviousness of the apparent to reach new shapes of poetry and life. Roggi gives creative freedom to his amazing imagination, creating sculptures in bronze, resin and marble with a strong formal and semantic impact, strong technique and expressive autonomy. His sculptures, as said, always reveal a deep symbolic and allegorical meditation, an existential reflection on the Cosmos and its creating Time and History.

A cosmogonic vision where, as for Lucretius, matter is ‘divine’ and eternal in its undulating becoming (De rerum natura: “nothing can ever be generated from nothing [...], nothing can be produced from nothing [...]; everything cannot [...] be reduced to nothing [...], therefore nothing returns to nothing, but all by disintegration returns to the elements of matter). In the whirlwind of this eternal matter the fleeting moment is captured and lost, in a continuous flow, where the elements (the bronze spranged from the ‘earth’, the ‘fire’ that forged it, the ‘water’ that cooled it, the ‘air’ that surrounds it) swell like sails, breathe under the thrust of the generator-inspirator wind.

From these spheres, from these pierced bells, as well as from its flights of metaphysical putti and acrobatic dancers, the joy of life emanates, as from chrysalis: from these ‘archetypes’ derives the multiplicity of Nature and living beings, the ‘divine’ and ‘sacred’ sense of human life. A plasticity and permeability that relieve materials from their pondus. Metaphors for mankind journey in constant search for new horizons and new – even uncomfortable – inner and spiritual lands.

The Tuscan sculptor’s search is aimed at exploring the infinite possibilities of form, sometimes externally enclosed within metallic and tubular networks of Euclidean geometric structures, always visibly animated by an internal energy projected towards the conquest of space. His works are constantly materializations of archetypes and ideas: while remaining anchored to the figuration, Roggi elaborates his own parallel, but quite singular, expressive code wich aims to the poetics of abstraction.